Tag Archives: brain

Orienteering can train the brain, may help fight cognitive decline

The sport of orienteering, which draws on athleticism, navigational skills and memory, could be useful as an intervention or preventive measure to fight cognitive decline related to dementia, according to new research from McMaster University.

Researchers hypothesized that the physical and cognitive demands of orienteering, which integrates exercise with navigation, may stimulate parts of the brain that our ancient ancestors used for hunting and gathering. The brain evolved thousands of years ago to adapt to the harsh environment by creating new neural pathways. 

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Those same brain functions are not as necessary for survival today due to modern conveniences such as GPS apps and readily available food. Researchers suggest it is a case of “use it or lose it.”

“Modern life may lack the specific cognitive and physical challenges the brain needs to thrive,” says Jennifer Heisz, Canada Research Chair in Brain Health and Aging at McMaster University, who supervised the research. “In the absence of active navigation, we risk losing that neural architecture.”

Heisz points to Alzheimer’s disease, in which losing the ability to find one’s way is among the earliest symptoms, affecting half of all afflicted individuals, even in the mildest stage of the disease.

In the study, published in the journal PLoS ONE, researchers surveyed healthy adults, ranging in age from 18 to 87 with varying degrees of orienteering expertise (none, intermediate, advanced and elite).

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What to Know About the Recently Approved Alzheimer’s Drug – Cedars-Sinai

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently granted approval to Lecanemab, the first Alzheimer’s disease treatment to win approval since the largely failed rollout of Aduhelm two years ago. Sold under the brand name Leqembi, the new drug shows promise, but experts say making the treatment available to patients at academic medical centers like Cedars-Sinai will take time.

“The clinical data on Leqembi is solid and shows moderately less decline for those participants who received the drug compared to those who did not in the Phase III study,” said Sarah Kremen, MD, who leads the Alzheimer’s Disease Clinical Trial Program at Cedars-Sinai. “But before making this treatment available to patients, we have to take steps to ensure that we’re giving the drug as safely as possible to patients who will face the least risk and receive the greatest benefit—a critical process that takes time.”

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Kremen, director of the Neurobehavior Program in the Jona Goldrich Center for Alzheimer’s and Memory Disorders, sat down with the Cedars-Sinai Newsroom to explain the risks and benefits of Leqembi and what interested patients can expect that process to include.

What did clinical trials show about Leqembi’s benefits?

The data showed that the treatment can pull amyloid—a protein that forms plaques and disrupts brain function—out of the brain in a significant way. Patients receiving Leqembi during clinical trials also showed slowing in decline on tests of memory and functional ability. Leqembi also seems to decrease accumulation of tau protein, which forms tangles inside neurons of Alzheimer’s patients, particularly in the memory centers of the brain. It’s important to recognize that while these results are exciting, this medication does not reverse cognitive decline, it only slows it down.

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AI-powered analysis accurately reflects risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease based on brain age

The human brain holds many clues about a person’s long-term health — in fact, research shows that a person’s brain age is a more useful and accurate predictor of health risks and future disease than their birth date. Now, a new artificial intelligence (AI) model that analyzes magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans developed by USC researchers could be used to accurately capture cognitive decline linked to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s much earlier than previous methods.

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Brain aging is considered a reliable biomarker for neurodegenerative disease risk. Such risk  increases when a person’s brain exhibits features that appear “older” than expected for someone of that person’s age. By tapping into the deep learning capability of the team’s novel AI model to analyze the scans, the researchers can detect subtle brain anatomy markers that are otherwise very difficult to detect and that correlate with cognitive decline. Their findings, published on Tuesday, January 2, in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, offer an unprecedented glimpse into human cognition.  

“Our study harnesses the power of deep learning to identify areas of the brain that are aging in ways that reflect a cognitive decline that may lead to Alzheimer’s,” said Andrei Irimia, assistant professor of gerontology, biomedical engineering, quantitative & computational biology and neuroscience at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology and corresponding author of the study.

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Cannabis-related emergency department visits rising among older adults

As a growing number of older adults are experimenting with cannabis to help alleviate chronic symptoms, a new University of California San Diego School of Medicine study has identified a sharp increase in cannabis-related emergency department visits among the elderly.

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The study, published Jan. 9, 2023 in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, identified a 1,808% relative increase in the rate of cannabis-related trips to the emergency department among California adults ages 65 and older from 2005 to 2019. Researchers used a trend analysis of data from the Department of Healthcare Access and Information and found that cannabis-related emergency department visits went from a total of 366 in 2005 to 12,167 in 2019.

The significant increase is particularly troublesome to geriatricians, given that older adults are at a higher risk for adverse health effects associated with psychoactive substances, including cannabis.

“Many patients assume they aren’t going to have adverse side effects from cannabis because they often don’t view it as seriously as they would a prescription drug,” said Benjamin Han, MD, MPH, the study’s first author and a geriatrician in the Division of Geriatrics, Gerontology, and Palliative Care in the Department of Medicine at UC San Diego School of Medicine.

“I do see a lot of older adults who are overly confident, saying they know how to handle it — yet as they have gotten older, their bodies are more sensitive, and the concentrations are very different from what they may have tried when they were younger.”

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Researchers reveal how trauma changes the brain

Exposure to trauma can be life-changing – and researchers are learning more about how traumatic events may physically change our brains. But these changes are not happening because of physical injury, rather our brain appears to rewire itself after these experiences. Understanding the mechanisms involved in these changes and how the brain learns about an environment and predicts threats and safety is a focus of the ZVR Lab at the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience at the University of Rochester, which is led by assistant professor Benjamin Suarez- Jimenez, Ph.D.

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“We are learning more about how people exposed to trauma learn to distinguish between what is safe and what is not. Their brain is giving us insight into what might be going awry in specific mechanisms that are impacted by trauma exposure, especially when emotion is involved,” said Suarez-Jimenez, who began this work as a post-doctoral fellow in the lab of Yuval Neria, Ph.D., professor at Columbia University Irving Medical Center.

Their research, recently published in Communications Biology, identified changes in the salience network – a mechanism in the brain used for learning and survival – in people exposed to trauma (with and without psychopathologies, including PTSD, depression, and anxiety). Using fMRI, the researchers recorded activity in the brains of participants as they looked at different-sized circles – only one size was associated with a small shock (or threat). Along with the changes in the salience network, researchers found another difference – this one within the trauma-exposed resilient group. They found the brains of people exposed to trauma without psychopathologies were compensating for changes in their brain processes by engaging the executive control network – one of the dominate networks of the brain.

“Knowing what to look for in the brain when someone is exposed to trauma could significantly advance treatments,” said Suarez-Jimenez, a co-first author with Xi Zhu, PhD, Assistant Professor of Clinical Neurobiology at Columbia, of this paper. “In this case, we know where a change is happening in the brain and how some people can work around that change. It is a marker of resilience.”

Adding the element of emotion

The possibility of threat can change how someone exposed to trauma reacts – researchers found this is the case in people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as described in a recent study in Depression & Anxiety. Suarez-Jimenez, his fellow co-authors, and senior author Neria found patients with PTSD can complete the same task as someone without exposure to trauma when no emotion is involved. However, when emotion invoked by a threat was added to a similar task, those with PTSD had more difficulty distinguishing between the differences.

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Brain Benefits of Exercise

I think of this as a variation on one-picture-is-worth-1000 words.

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Healthy older people show greater mental well-being but poorer cognition than younger adults

The young and old could learn a thing or two from each other, at least when it comes to mental health and cognition.

In a new study, published September 12, 2022 in Psychology and Aging, researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine found that healthy older adults show greater mental well-being but poorer cognitive performance than younger adults. The underlying neural mechanisms may inspire new interventions to promote healthy brain function.

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The study sampled 62 healthy younger adults in their 20s and 54 healthy older adults above age 60. Researchers evaluated participants’ mental health, surveying symptoms of anxiety, depression, loneliness and overall mental well-being. Participants also performed several cognitively demanding tasks while their brain activity was measured using electroencephalography (EEG).

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Machine learning gives glimpse of how a dog’s brain represents what it sees

Okay, this doesn’t have any obvious connection to living a long and healthy life, but I am a dog-lover and believe that there are more connections between our two species than meets the eye.

Scientists have decoded visual images from a dog’s brain, offering a first look at how the canine mind reconstructs what it sees. The Journal of Visualized Experiments published the research done at Emory University. 

Credit: Emory Canine Cognitive Neuroscience Lab

The results suggest that dogs are more attuned to actions in their environment rather than to who or what is doing the action.

The researchers recorded the fMRI neural data for two awake, unrestrained dogs as they watched videos in three 30-minute sessions, for a total of 90 minutes. They then used a machine-learning algorithm to analyze the patterns in the neural data.

“We showed that we can monitor the activity in a dog’s brain while it is watching a video and, to at least a limited degree, reconstruct what it is looking at,” says Gregory Berns, Emory professor of psychology and corresponding author of the paper. “The fact that we are able to do that is remarkable.”

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What about seniors drinking alcohol? -NIA


Like all adults, older adults should avoid or limit alcohol consumption. In fact, aging can lead to social and physical changes that make older adults more susceptible to alcohol misuse and abuse and more vulnerable to the consequences of alcohol. Alcohol dependence or heavy drinking affects every organ in the body, including the brain.

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comprehensive study from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism shows that alcohol consumption among older adults, especially women, is on the rise. The researchers also found evidence that certain brain regions show signs of premature aging in alcohol-dependent men and women. In addition, heavy drinking for extended periods of time in older adults may contribute to poor heart health, as shown in this 2016 study. These studies suggest that stopping or limiting the use of alcohol could improve heart health and prevent the accelerated aging seen with heavy alcohol use.

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Learning a musical instrument may confer lifelong cognitive benefits

Musical training has long been linked to better general cognitive functioning. Studies investigating everything from the cognitive skills of adult musicians vs non-musicians to the effects of instrument lessons on children’s cognition has come out in support of the idea, according to the British Psychological Society.

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However, relatively few studies have explored whether the benefits last — if, as a child, you have piano lessons, for example, does this have any impact on your cognitive abilities in later life? The results of a new longitudinal study, in Psychological Science, which tested the same people at the ages of 11 and 70, suggest that it does. Cognitive benefits of musical training seem to be evident even decades later.

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Is your blood type linked to your risk of stroke before age 60?

Gene variants associated with a person’s blood type may be linked to their risk of early stroke, according to a new meta-analysis published in the August 31, 2022, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. The meta-analysis included all available data from genetic studies that included young adult ischemic stroke, which is caused by a blockage of blood flow to the brain.

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“Non-O blood types have previously been linked to a risk of early stroke, but the findings of our meta-analysis showed a stronger link between these blood types with early stroke compared to late stroke, and in linking risk mostly to blood type A,” said study author Braxton D. Mitchell, PhD, MPH, of University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. “Specifically, our meta-analysis suggests that gene variants tied to blood types A and O represent nearly all of those genetically linked with early stroke. People with these gene variants may be more likely to develop blood clots, which can lead to stroke.”

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Musical tests can detect mental deterioration in seniors

Researchers at Tel Aviv University have developed a method that employs musical tests and a portable instrument for measuring brain activity to detect cognitive decline in old age. According to the researchers, the method, which is based on the measurement of 15 minutes of electrical activity in the brain while performing simple musical tasks, can be easily implemented by any staff member in any clinic, without requiring special training.

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The researchers: “Our method enables routine monitoring and early detection of cognitive decline in order to provide treatment and prevent rapid, severe deterioration. Prophylactic tests of this kind are commonly accepted for a variety of physiological problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure or breast cancer; however, to date no method has yet been developed to enable routine, accessible monitoring of the brain for cognitive issues.” The researchers further note that tests of this kind are particularly important in light of increasing longevity and associated growth of the elderly population.

The study was led at Tel Aviv University by PhD student Neta Maimon from the School of Psychological Sciences and the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music, and Lior Molcho from Neurosteer Ltd, headed by Prof. Nathan Intrator from the Blavatnik School of Computer Science and the Sagol School of Neuroscience. Other participants included: Adi Sasson, Sarit Rabinowitz, and Noa Regev-Plotnick from the Dorot-Netanya Geriatric Medical Center. The article was published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.

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Alzheimer’s detection up to 17 years in advance

The dementia disorder Alzheimer’s disease has a symptom-free course of 15 to 20 years before the first clinical symptoms emerge. Using an immuno-infrared sensor developed in Bochum, a research team is able to identify signs of Alzheimer’s disease in the blood up to 17 years before the first clinical symptoms appear. The sensor detects the misfolding of the protein biomarker amyloid-beta. As the disease progresses, this misfolding causes characteristic deposits in the brain, so-called plaques.

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“Our goal is to determine the risk of developing Alzheimer’s dementia at a later stage with a simple blood test even before the toxic plaques can form in the brain, in order to ensure that a therapy can be initiated in time,” says Professor Klaus Gerwert, founding director of the Centre for Protein Diagnostics (PRODI) at Ruhr-Universität Bochum. His team cooperated for the study with a group at the German Cancer Research Centre in Heidelberg (DKFZ) headed by Professor Hermann Brenner.

The team published the results obtained with the immuno-infrared sensor in the journal “Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association” on 19 July 2022. This study is supported by a comparative study published in the same journal on 2 March 2022, in which the researchers used complementary single-molecule array (SIMOA) technology.

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Dynamic mental illness indicators caught by advanced AI in brain imaging

New research by Georgia State University’s TReNDS Center may lead to early diagnosis of devastating conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia and autism—in time to help prevent and more easily treat these disorders. In a new study published in Scientific Reports a team of seven scientists from Georgia State built a sophisticated computer program that was able to comb through massive amounts of brain imaging data and discover novel patterns linked to mental health conditions. The brain imaging data came from scans using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which measures dynamic brain activity by detecting tiny changes in blood flow.

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“We built artificial intelligence models to interpret the large amounts of information from fMRI,” said Sergey Plis, associate professor of computer science and neuroscience at Georgia State, and lead author on the study.

He compared this kind of dynamic imaging to a movie—as opposed to a snapshot such as an x-ray or, the more common structural MRI—and noted “the available data is so much larger, so much richer than a blood test or a regular MRI. But that’s the challenge—that huge amount of data is hard to interpret.”

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Moderate drinking linked to brain changes and cognitive decline

Consumption of seven or more units of alcohol per week is associated with higher iron levels in the brain, according to a study of almost 21,000 people. Iron accumulation in the brain has been linked with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases and is a potential mechanism for alcohol-related cognitive decline.

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There is growing evidence that even moderate alcohol consumption can adversely impact brain health. Anya Topiwala of the University of Oxford, United Kingdom, and colleagues explored relationships between alcohol consumption and brain iron levels. Their 20,965 participants from the UK Biobank reported their own alcohol consumption, and their brains were scanned using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Almost 7,000 also had their livers imaged using MRI to assess levels of systemic iron. All individuals completed a series of simple tests to assess cognitive and motor function.

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Spirituality linked with better health outcomes, patient care

Spirituality should be incorporated into care for both serious illness and overall health, according to a study led by researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

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“This study represents the most rigorous and comprehensive systematic analysis of the modern day literature regarding health and spirituality to date,” said Tracy Balboni, lead author and senior physician at the Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center and professor of radiation oncology at Harvard Medical School. “Our findings indicate that attention to spirituality in serious illness and in health should be a vital part of future whole person-centered care, and the results should stimulate more national discussion and progress on how spirituality can be incorporated into this type of value-sensitive care.”

“Spirituality is important to many patients as they think about their health,” said Tyler VanderWeele, the John L. Loeb and Frances Lehman Loeb Professor of Epidemiology in the Departments of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Harvard Chan School. “Focusing on spirituality in health care means caring for the whole person, not just their disease.”

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